WARNING: These short stories contain horrific images and extreme violence. For every action, there is a reaction, and because music has reached such an unprecedented level of artistry, the evil in the belly of the world has crept to the surface. Please read with extreme caution. Each month, a different super-star band will be cursed, haunted, stalked, and terrorized by vicious serial killers, demented miscreants, blood-sucking zombies, and hideous demon-spirits. Fear is a disease. You will be infected.
Lzzy Hale – vocals, guitar
Arejay Hale – drums
Joe Hottinger – guitar
Josh Smith – bass
Before you delve into Volume 5 of MUSIC HELL, we strongly encourage you to enhance your reading experience by streaming Halestorm’s back-catalogue of killer content. Their new album, Vicious, drops on July 27th, 2018, via Atlantic Records.
Everything exploded when I had the chance to write an article about Halestorm, based on an invite-only performance they were doing between the early shows on their 2018 Tour in July. It was going down at the TLA Theatre here in my (and their) hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the guest list was all top-shelf types: record company reps, industry pros, entertainment lawyers, and radio executives. I, on the other hand, came from a small music magazine for which I normally wrote short monthly album reviews, never more than a paragraph.
Talk about opportunity!
This was my first live show for my first feature article, no word-count constraints, no pre-set templates for content. I was supposed to pick up my tickets at will-call, and the instructions were that I see Elizabeth at the merch table before the show so she could lead me back stage to talk to at least one member of the band. I was to ask three questions. I was to keep it short and sweet, then watch the set, and write a long and detailed review based on special moments I’d get to see up close and personal.
Talk about last minute nerves…
I admit that I was painfully aware of my lack of journalistic experience here, as I was usually assigned to bands on Indie labels with their first records coming out, and Halestorm, of course, were already superstars in the industry, universally hailed as one of the most vital and iconic bands in modern hard rock, with their spectacular self-titled debut in 2009, followed in 2012 by the blockbuster, The Strange Case of…, highlighting the Grammy-award-winning smash, “Love Bites (So Do I),” both albums going on to be certified RIAA Gold. Their third acclaimed album, Into the Wild Life, made a stunning top 5 debut on the Soundscan/Billboard 200 on its April 2015 release while also entering Billboard’s “Top Hard Rock Albums” tally at number 1. The record breaking smash hit from that album, “Apocalyptic,” ascended to number 1 at rock radio outlets nationwide, as well as the top 5 Active Rock favorites “Amen” and “I am the Fire.” And their official YouTube channel, HalestormRocks was getting so many views it was almost inconceivable.
So, I was scared shitless, and worse, being the fool that I am, I had bragged about my opportunity at home and insisted that my wife accompany me. She didn’t know Halestorm, and when we were Ubering down to the gig, she brought up some pics of Lzzy Hale on her cell phone.
“Oh,” she said, blinking twice, color spreading into her face. “She’s pretty, I get it.”
I didn’t know what to say. I knew Lzzy Hale was a looker, but none of that noise had ever been at the forefront for me when it came to her music. Of course, I never thought she avoided sexuality…her lyrics would have made me a liar…but I’d always felt that she was coming at it from a position of irony, from a place of ownership and empowerment, at times satirically, almost like tongue-in-cheek in a hall of mirrors. But my wife Kim didn’t see it that way. She saw a hot chick with a guitar and an attitude, and she saw her husband with the chance to get some possible face-time.
We got out at 2nd and Pine because traffic was backed up, and just my luck, it started to drizzle. Now Kim would be pissed off and wet, and I started stressing inside about possibly meeting Lzzy Hale’s younger brother Arejay and fucking up my questions about his amazing style of drumming. I wanted to shore-up the way I might ask Joe Hottinger about his preference for the mirrored “V” for the ballads, and I wanted to smooth the segue I might use to ask Josh Smith about replacing Lzzy’s dad as the bass player years back.
Kim walked next to me stiffly with her arms folded, and the rain picked up making the puddles dance. By the time we passed Lorenzo’s and crossed over South Street, her damp bangs were sticking to her forehead and her cleavage was wet. I thought it made her look good, like a shampoo commercial or something, but of course I couldn’t tell her so because we were “fighting.” I smiled to myself. Some of our best shit never got said because we were out of context. Life’s tragedy. Poems lost in the rain, and Kim and I weren’t soaked, we were glistening, and I almost laughed out loud like a fucking hyena.
Our tickets were right there at will-call, and when we got in I looked over to the right. There was a small crowd in front of the merch table that was dispersing, and I started to make my way over. It was an elaborate set-up, with tee-shirts stretched on poster boards covering the back wall and portable canvas shelving units to the sides filled with paraphernalia. The table was covered with CDs, DVDs, rolled up posters, dog tag necklaces, album cover magnets advertising their new release Vicious, and some raucous pendants with bird-shapes in them representing the record’s massive opening cut, “Black Vultures,” my latest fave for sure, but…oh…looky here. To the left, there was what appeared to be a limited edition, opaque purple colored double vinyl version of Vicious, with a sign written in black Sharpie claiming the collector’s item had enhanced cover art and bonus tracks, limited to 1,500 units worldwide.
Check out the visualizer for Halestorm’ “Black Vultures” single.
I wanted it. I didn’t care how much it cost, and I was starting to look around to see if there was anyone manning the homestead here, when a woman popped up from behind the table right in front of me, seemingly appearing from nowhere because she’d been kneeling on the floor back there. She had on fingerless black gloves, and both hands were up at her left earlobe. She was tall, wide mouth, dark, clever eyes. She had on black leather and a neck choker, and the short haircut had grown in nicely, and it was Lzzy Hale herself, and I wanted to kick myself for not connecting “Elizabeth at the merch table,” but who the fuck would have thunk it?
“Thought I lost an earring,” she said. “You must be Mike.”
My mouth dropped open. She must have had me confused with someone from Loudwire or Decibel or Atlantic Records. She leaned forward resting her palms on the table, head cocked a bit left.
“You’re Mike Aronovitz,” she said, “college professor and small market horror author, part-time rock reviewer. You put out two collections and three novels. Your debut got the best press, but Phantom Effect was the one the most daring. You took a risk. I like that.” She looked at Kim. “You teach elementary school. Special ed. You’re a fucking hero, don’t let anyone tell you different.”
“I…” Kim said. “I…uh…thank you.”
Lzzy stood straight, folded her arms, and put her weight on the back leg, sort of eyeing me out the side of her face.
“So,” she said. “What do you want to ask me? Mike…”
My mind was a traffic jam. She ran her tongue over her two front teeth.
“C’mon, dude. I’m giving you my attention and I’ll give you one answer, all yours. An exclusive. Make it something good. Go deep. Take a risk and wow me.”
“All the faces!” I blurted out. “You’re fascinated with faces!”
I felt Kim cringe beside me, but Lzzy’s eyes sparkled.
“How so?” she said. “You gonna go “Professor” on me?”
“Where’s your proof?” she said.
“Second album,” I said, “called The Strange Case of…, with the song “Mz. Hyde” directly relating to the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, featuring a man who drinks a concoction that transforms him into a beast that represents his pure evil. Many of your songs are flavored with this sort of symbol, exemplifying all the other hidden things coming to the surface…the good stuff, the real deal, like lust, sheer joy, temptation, rage, hatred, hard feelings, hard love, rebellion.”
“Your songs are an ongoing adventure, Lzzy, exploring the blur of faces, the wars we wage with ourselves to find our identity. Why else would you feature that head-shaking effect in “I Miss the Misery” at the 46 second point…the one that alternates between the passive, open expressions in the black and white concert shots versus the predatory emotions in the drama portions in full color? How about in the bridge in “Apocalyptic,” at the 2:02 mark when you sing, “Whoa” as raunchy as it can get, but follow it almost schizophrenically with that look of vulnerability, singing, “No one knows me better?”
Lzzy shook hair out of her face.
“And the first single we released off the new record?” she said.
“Right,” I said, “upbeat and driving with those wavering notes in the chorus where your voice doubles the guitar. ‘Uncomfortable’ is a hit from the get-go, and you continue the theme at the 1:33 mark, singing about pre-conceived notions, then merging your head shot with that carousel of faces, all male, leaving us in paradox.”
I was out of breath. I’d said too much. I was assuming things that weren’t my place, but she was smiling, seemingly considering something.
Don’t forget, Halestorm’s latest album Vicious, drops on July 27th, 2018, via Atlantic Records.
“Ok then,” she said finally. “You’ve made this interesting, so it’s time to see what’s inside of you. Mike. Time to see what’s hidden there under the blur.”
The lights blackened, barely a flicker, but when they came back up Lzzy was gone. In her place was a lanky guy wearing ripped jeans and a Halestorm Vintage Vampire tee, and he was showing off the tat on his forearm to a couple of guys with long beards and biker bandanas. I glanced at Kim, and she shrugged.
“She’s amazing,” she said simply. I smiled. Things were going to be fine.
“I’m going to hit the head,” I said.
“What, do you need permission?” she joked back, and I knew for sure things were good again. I walked through the archway, and the dance floor was still filling in, maybe a couple of rows of people milling in front of the barricade. Up on stage, Halestorm’s equipment was bathed in blue-light, and Arejay’s kit looked especially spectacular, with majestic glints coming off the chrome and all that. I looked off to the left. There was a bar, thank the lawd, and where there was a bar there was always a bathroom nearby, gimme a fuckin’ Amen!
A TLA guy checked my hand-stamp and ID, and I walked past the bar due-left to the multi-gender lavatory. Opening the door, I noted that it looked neat and clean in here like a home rather than the usual industrial presentation, and suddenly everything changed.
I was not in the bathroom anymore.
I wasn’t even in the TLA Theatre.
I was standing in the snow in the middle of the woods, and my breath was heavy on the air. I’d been running, and my feet were half numb. To the left where the bathroom sink had just been, was now the littered remains of a campfire long extinguished, its withered nest of branch-work charred white and scorched charcoal-black in a rough circle of frozen ash. To the right where the toilet had been, there was now a huge well made of field stone, frosted moss covering its base and wild ivy growing up one side, fluttering in the night wind.
Next to me was Arejay Hale, dressed like I was, in a two-layered war-frock, maroon and blue with a sash underneath, and a headpiece that looked like a brown leather tea-kettle. I would have laughed out loud, but I suddenly realized, from the research I’d done for my horror pieces, that this wasn’t some random forest, and these costumes weren’t just silly, cartoonish manifestations of some childish fantasy. These were medieval Cebeci uniforms, worn by the special keepers of weaponry for the army of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror of the Ottoman Empire. This was Romania, somewhere between Bucharest and Giurgiu, and I didn’t have to ask Arejay what year it was. How about 1476…how about the fact that those in the Ottoman artillery corps in this timeline would have been the enemies of none other than Vlad the Impaler, the son of a bitch who’d invaded Bulgaria and brutally murdered more than fifty-thousand Turks.
“He’s in there,” Arejay said.
“Down the well,” he said. He pulled back his jacket flap and drew out a Kilij saber, long and curved, picking up night-gleam from the moon splintering between the trees, just like the rims and hardware of his drumkit under the blue-lights in what felt like another lifetime.
“Wait,” I said. “You’re telling me that Vlad the Impaler…Count fucking Dracula, is in this stone well, right here and right now?”
You should watch this “Uncomfortable” music video, dude…
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“But he’s dead.”
“But according to history…sorry…according to the reports, we beheaded the bastard and sent his head to Constantinople. We preserved it in honey. Sent them a message.”
Arejay shook his head.
“Not so, and now that we’re here, I can tell you the truth. I couldn’t until now, my brother, since the fewer that know this the better, but the short casket with the headpiece, the severed limbs, and the core cut in quarters was stolen in the thick of the night. It is believed that the deserter and traitor, Nebi Akdan, ran off to these woods with the body parts strapped on his back in a barrel. He dumped them into the depths of this well, and so here the monster resides, locked out of heaven and hell, ready to burst back into the world and spread his disease.”
“And we’re going to kill him. Again.”
“Of course, we are. Wouldn’t want a bunch of old ladies and grand-pappies spreading rumors and making up stories, now would we?” His smile flattened. “It’s time.”
I pointed at his weapon.
“Trust me, that’s useless. Whether we’re going more for straight history or leaning toward folklore, we might as well get it right from the get-go.” I bent down to the campfire pit and took out a branch thick as a bat handle and white-charred at its mid-point like a rictus grin. “Sharpen up the end of this, Arejay. Aim for the heart. Don’t miss. You’ll save us the time, trust me.” He grinned as if liking my style, knelt, and started shaving the end of the wood to a point.
“Get on with it then,” he said to me. “Time’s dear. Take off that old wooden well-cover.”
“Of course. I’ll give you the count.”
“Right,” I said, and as I approached the stone well I felt a thrill going right up my spine, knowing I was facing one of the world’s darkest mysteries with the best drummer in the modern world counting out my intro-signal.
“A one,” he said.
The cover was bigger than I’d thought. It was thick and weather-grayed, and I had to spread my arms to full extension to get a grip on each side.
I gave it a test-pull. Heavy as hell, and I knew right there that I wasn’t going to “lift” it off, but rather scrape it back across toward me until it reached the tipping point. Hopefully, it wouldn’t go crushing my toes.
“A one, two, three, four!”
I yanked with everything that I had, and it raked along the rough masonry of the orifice stubbornly at first, then coming off in a rush as I fell back into the snow. It thudded to the earth inches before me and rolled a few feet before spinning down side to side like a humongous trash can lid, kicking up snow, and there was something hollow and echoed coming from deep inside the well now, growing from the bowels of the earth. It was the furious sound of beating wings, and the stone structure suddenly erupted with a flood of black bats vomiting up into the air, rising hard and blanketing the forest canopy with the blotted shapes of those Halloween circus tent wings, membranes and forelegs, shrieking like sirens. I had a rush of strange backward vertigo looking up at the fluttering squall, and then they formed themselves into a widened arrowhead that swooped back and forth just above us like a lethal air force making tactical runs.
Photos from Welcome to Rockville – Day 1 @ Metropolitan Park (Jacksonville, FL) on April 27, 2018.
There was music. Like a soundtrack, off speed as if someone was spinning vinyl too slow in black phantasm, and it was Halestorm’s “Love Bites,” and something was coming up out of the well.
We saw the hands first, long and bone-white, raised knuckles, curved blackened nails, gripping for purchase on the outer most edge of the stone. Then a shoulder, head bent in exertion, and he had an elbow up and he pushed with his other palm. His long hair was plastered to his ivory skull, and I thought of the old movies that made it seem like some sort of fancy hair mousse when it was actually dank fucking well-water, and he was straddling the lip now, getting a leg-up, and even though you couldn’t see the severs under his war-frock where he’d somehow put himself back together, the scar across his throat was still fresh between the folds of his high collar, a ragged hash mark, dull red seething puss, and I decided to scramble up fast to meet him there at the edge.
To try my best to hold him in place.
While Arejay put a stake through his black fucking heart.
The beast was straddling the lip now, one leg in and one out, and he had on knee-high black commander’s boots, canvas trousers, and a thick maroon coat lined with bear fur, heavy and dripping with the runoff and waste from earth’s inner sanctum. He turned toward us, the curve of his ancient, regal face like a crescent moon made of bone. He had a high forehead, dark caverns for eyes, and a long jaw, and when his mouth opened in surprise at my approach, he looked like “Ghostface” from Scream, only royal like a playing card, the red type, the prince of the dead.
I’d been quick to my feet, but Arejay was quicker, jumping forward in front of me and reaching for a fistful of the beast’s hair to yank back the head and open the target area, and he plunged that stake straight into Count Dracula’s chest like a battle axe sunk in green wood-stock. Black gore back-spattered Arejay in the face, and the figure before him writhed in sudden convulsions, grabbing for the embedded spike, digging at it, pawing and scratching as Arejay held him there to task. The fiend’s screams then became shrieks, almost insectile, as its face started darkening, wrinkling up hard like beef jerky under a heat gun, twisting into that of a man-sized rodent, a black bat with slanted red eyes, a mashed snout, coarse hairs spiked between its devil-ears, and long fangs hooked down and splintered.
It was screeching and spitting.
And its soldiers were coming on hard, the colony of bat-servants swooping back in for a last-ditch run at master and murderer in an “all’s lost” scenario where they meant to draw a tie, clearing the field of their betters so that uncontested, they could search for another champion in their strange netherworld and continue to pollute the woods with the haunt of their shadows.
But Arejay was not going to be taken, because I was going to protect him, I mean, I’d always hoped that if I were faced with a school shooter I would react heroically, not even thinking about self-sacrifice, saving the students.
I moved in front of Arejay Hale with my back to him, and I ran headlong toward the black nebula. The bats were almost upon me, and I couldn’t stop them, but I figured that my diversion might open an avenue for Arejay’s escape. Behind me I heard a powdery burst, and I figured that Vlad the Impaler had left this world in a cloud of bone-dust, garments formless now, falling back to the damp grave he’d crawled from.
The bats came on and engulfed me to darkness, thick and complete.
“Love Bites (So Do I)” exclaim the band with this powerful song and video!
When it lifted, I was back at the TLA Theatre, out of the bathroom, now sitting at the bar, but it wasn’t the TLA Theatre and this wasn’t a “bar,” not really, not quite. It was an old-fashioned brew-pub, crowded with patrons wearing weathered, shoddy Victorian garb like you’d see in Oliver Twist, all bonnets and plain gray petticoats, bustles, low necklines and day dresses, and the men were in work clothes, trousers and suspenders, dark vests and sack coats, Bowlers and Charlie hats, and I was sitting between my two co-workers from the New London Forge, Joe Hottinger and Josh Smith. Our sleeves were rolled up, and like most smithies, we’d properly cleaned up before leaving the factory, wiping good around the eyes, making us look like racoons in the wavering light of the oil lamps. Next to us were two red-headed chimney sweeps, twins covered with soot and barely bigger than boys, and on the other side were four dock workers, one toothless, laughing uproariously, and another one wearing an eye-patch.
“Bloody hell,” Joe was saying. “Today, that new man, Jacob someone, a puddler’s helper was taking out a buggy of hot coals. He slipped on a plate and fell with the contraption tipping toward him. Lucky it had a crust on, or he’d been covered with live cinder.”
Josh took a long pull from his glass and wiped off his mouth with his forearm.
“Yeah,” he said. “I heard it still burned him bad. Broke his arm and both ankles.”
Someone bumped him, and he almost spilled.
“Watch it now,” he cautioned back over his shoulder, and the woman who’d elbowed up to the bar behind him scowled like a farm animal. She had dark braided pigtails and a bruise under her eye.
“I’m not a watcher,” she said, “I’m a doer, and I could do you for a shilling.”
“Where then?” he said, winking at us. “You got a fancy parlor nearby?”
“Oh, piss off then,” she spat. “Pint of bitter here, Freddie, no fuck that, make it a lager. I’ll drink it cold like an American, cause I’m just a poor little flower girl looking for a cowboy.”
There was laughter, some half-hearted cheers, and a voice at her left elbow said,
“I’ll have a go, dear.”
I leaned forward, but both Josh’s shoulder and the back of her head blocked my view. The man’s voice had given me shivers, rotten silk, like walking face-first into a spider web with your mouth open.
They made to leave together, and I turned on my stool to mark his face. But I was screened by a barmaid leaning in to exchange a wet cocktail tray, and a large man in overalls and a slouch hat pushing through to start complaining about the service.
Then I saw it, bobbing and weaving through the crowd toward the exit. A black top hat. This guy was tall. And over-dressed as compared to the rest of us.
“Bye Annie,” someone called. “Go spread ‘em for the dandies, but you should save your damned jaw for the rest of us!”
More laughter, and I said almost rhetorically,
“Yeah,” Joe said. “Annie Chapman. The cheapest fuck in White Chapel.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“About what?” Josh said.
“About her,” I said. “Annie Chapman.” I looked back and forth between them like they’d each grown two heads. “White Chapel,” I continued. “1888, London England, the Autumn of Terror.” I glanced behind the bar, and there was a plaque I hadn’t noticed before that looked like a coat of arms, the letters at the bottom in the motto area giving me chills. “The Black Swan?” I said. “This is the Black Swan Pub? On fucking Hanbury Street?”
“You know where you are,” Joe said, “stop fucking with us.” He swiveled his wrist making the foam swirl up in his glass. “So, what’s this ‘Autumn of Terror?’” he said. “And what’s that to do with Dark Annie?”
“Are you serious? She’s victim number two of the ‘Canonical Five.’ Mary Ann Nichols, then Annie, and next Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly, end of August through the 9th of November. That mark under Annie’s eye is from a fight she had at the lodging house with…shit I forget her name…maybe Eliza Cooper…over a bar of soap.”
“Someone’s in love,” Josh smirked.
Reanimate 3.0: The Covers EP came out on January 6th, 2017.
“No,” I said. “Someone’s going to die. Horribly. Tonight, Annie Chapman. The dude she just left with will taunt the police with a letter at the end of this month and a post card October 1st, claiming the nickname ‘Jack the Ripper,’ and the adjective is no fucking understatement. He’s going to choke Annie at the rear exterior of 29 Hanbury Street, right up the road from here, on the raised stone steps by a thick wooden door. He’s going to cut her throat in a jagged slash left to right all the way around, disembowel her and pull the intestines up over her shoulders. He’s going to take part of her uterus for a trophy, c’mon, we’ve got to move fast.”
“Fuckin’ A,” Joe said.
“Fuckin’ right,” Josh echoed. “Always knew we’d get our names in the papers for something.”
I threw all the coin in my pocket onto the bar, and together we started to push through the crowd. Passing the kitchen, the door had slammed open, bathing us in the dense odor of shepherd’s pie and cod fried in animal fat, yet I noticed it more when we’d left it behind, missing it like an old friend.
For out here, it reeked badly of horse dung, splotched all over Hanbury Street between the stone tramways. It made the horrors of global warming and greenhouse gasses seem trivial as the fetid stink out here made you gag, with the fog literally rubbing your throat raw and making your eyes burn. The haze seemed mostly man-made, hanging in dull clouds and ghostly threads beneath the sickly glow of the gas lamps affixed sporadically on the walls of crumbling stone tenements. They rose in dark edge-work to form shadowed arteries of uneven cobblestone, and the three of us raced down Hanbury Street trying our best not to turn an ankle or pitch head long into a fruit stand or trade merchant’s wagon covered in canvas, hidden by shadow.
The road bent left, and coming out of the soft curve, we saw him, two hundred feet north, standing motionless under a street lamp. Luckily there was a low awning over our heads casting black pitch, and we knelt to peer around the back of a wheel-less horse carriage on its side for repair up on crates. And down the street bathed in mist to the ankles, he was just standing there, a silhouette in a top hat, coat tails, black cape, and riding boots, and he had a bag in his hand, a doctor’s bag, but it looked bigger, like a small suitcase. He was staring into the alley Annie Chapman had just slipped into, seemingly measuring this.
The famous murder site photos showed a “rear exterior,” a back yard, and here, Annie was getting to it by an alternative route so she could avoid waltzing through the front door of the boarding house announcing their presence. Made sense. Annie lived on Dorset Street, but she would have known of all the cheap lodging in the area…who was currently staying where, the ins and outs, the nooks and crannies where she could offer her “wares” uninterrupted, and now, she was scoping out the path only children, stray cats, and hookers would know, climbing over short walls back in there and squeezing through holes made in the fence-work, making sure the coast would be clear.
The Ripper was taking long, slow strides toward the alley now, and it was go-time. We came out from behind the carriage, and my heart was pounding, my eyes wide like goose eggs, and I was picking up the setting around me in bits and slashes like a horror movie…a perfect example of why witnesses rarely remembered things accurately in threatening scenarios. It was almost as if my senses were pinning the meter in one way that made them clipped and muted in others, fucking up the linear order and just flashing the highlights.
I was also thinking that the timeline was off. Supposedly, she was killed at around 5:30 AM, and it wasn’t the next day yet. What time was it? Midnight? 2:00 in the morning? According to the reports, I could have sworn I read that one Mrs. Elizabeth Long saw Annie talking to a man just beyond the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, and he was over forty with a deer-stalker hat and shabby overcoat. That was a solid ID, and it came in the daylight. Here, it was still full dark, and the outfit was wrong. What were all the ways this son-of-a-bitch had been described through different parts of his reign of terror?
Ready for a little “Mayhem”? Watch this video!
A man in a top hat and coattails.
A man with a bloody butcher’s apron.
A man with a Sherlock Holmes style deer-stalker’s hat and a shabby overcoat.
A doctor with a bag filled with surgical instruments.
We hustled down the alley and into the dark labyrinth as quietly as possible, ducking under laundry lines, climbing short walls, trying to skirt patches of garden that looked cared for, and tramping fast through the weed infested plots that were not. At one point I was sure we were lost, off the scent as it were, but music came up in the background like soundtrack only I could perceive, Halestorm’s “Mayhem,” and I followed where the music seemed to be coming from, leading us to a sparse hedge, and through it, we saw him across two bare plots opening a wooden gate and passing beneath a thick leafy trellis.
“Let’s get him,” I said. “Now.”
We moved carefully across the plots at first for the sake of stealth, and on the approach there were voices we heard through the garden gate. Strangely, both belonged to Annie Chapman, and it seemed she was conversing with herself.
“No,” we heard her say. “Don’t, my Lord, please.”
“It will only hurt for a bald second, mum,” she said back to herself. “My hand will feel warm on your throat, just concentrate hard on the warmth of it.”
We burst through, and there was The Ripper, a black shadow leaning over Annie Chapman, left hand on her neck, right hand raised up high. Protruding from his fist was a short knife, keen edge and rounded back, the type that folded, like a barber’s razor. Joe rushed him and executed a raucous tackle, good enough for the NFL, textbook, right to the ribs, knocking the man clean off the stairs. Josh and I were quick to follow, and in one of those “slash-frames,” my mind registered the fact that I’d reached into the struggle, possibly blocking a wrap-around swipe The Ripper had tried at the back of Joe’s neck, and I’d been sliced right up the forearm, stinging and burning.
Josh wrenched the blade out of the beast’s hands, and Joe pulled him up into the light, a plain man with gray eyes, sharp cheekbones, and a small pointed chin. He looked fragile, almost effeminate, like nobody, like everybody, and suddenly I understood.
Whatever his name, whatever his trade, this man could throw his voice, do impressions. We hadn’t heard Dark Annie talking to herself through the garden gate. We’d heard the Ripper practicing talking back in her voice, getting the percussive consonants right, the implosives, phonetics, and inflections. And minutes before, we’d seen him standing dead-still under the street lamp for a reason, not in a moment of indecision as to whether he wanted to go slumming through the back way, but rather, so he could be seen.
In a top hat and coattails.
There was a theory that The Ripper was a medical man, with knowledge of anatomy and a doctor’s bag filled with cutting implements, but I would have wagered a year’s salary on the fact that he only had the one blade. The disembowelment was a diversion. He knew anatomy because he’d read up on it, and the main idea here was that a “different person” was going to walk out of the back yard, and eventually, yet another different person would exit the alley on Hanbury Street.
The neighbor Elizabeth Long had testified that she’d “seen” Annie Chapman talking to a man, but she hadn’t. She had heard The Ripper. Doing two voices, then coming out from behind the fence in his deer-stalker hat and shabby overcoat.
But if he’d killed Chapman hours before, why risk waiting around? Why not just run back the way he had come in the dark?
Because it was a game. Because this was theater, and he’d been sure to make his grand exit at a time when there would, in fact, have been multiple witnesses, like Albert Cadosch the carpenter and John Richardson, son of a resident, both hearing similar “conversations,” when the sun had just risen.
A shot of Lizzy Hale live @ O2 Academy (Leeds, UK) on March 18, 2015.
“Don’t you fucking move,” Joe said to him. He had him up against the fencing, blade to his throat, and Josh joined him, holding the bastard right where he was. I walked over to Annie Chapman, helping her up from the stone. She was pale, shaking, but showed immediate concern for my injury.
“You’re bleeding,” she said.
“War wound, my pleasure,” I returned. She reached into her bra, and drew out a couple of things, a couple of pills, a tiny comb, the torn edge of an envelope, a piece of muslin. She also had a handkerchief, and I almost shouted in triumph. It was the cloth The Ripper had used to cover the gash in her throat. We’d changed history for sure, and I didn’t mind in the least that the world would be without this one particular legend.
“Josh, go get the cops,” I said. “Joe, if he moves, slit his damned throat.”
I pressed the handkerchief to the slash on the back of my forearm and made my way to the far side of the stone stairway. There was The Ripper’s “doctor bag,” big as a suitcase, and I bent to flip the thing open.
Inside were costumes. There was the deer-stalker Sherlock Holmes hat, a shabby overcoat, a butcher’s apron, and a spare cape, but there were also gaudy women’s evening gloves, junk jewelry, a tea dress, high heels, a corset. And wigs.
The man that entered the alley was a dandy with a top hat and coattails. The man who left the back yard was to be a working-class man in a shabby coat with a deer-stalker hat, and the one meant to exit the alley would have been some non-descript female hooker with a suitcase, seemingly kicked out of somewhere and told to move on.
The Ripper wasn’t some fiendish doctor or butcher, or even royalty trying to cover up an embarrassing pregnancy as some conspiracy theories had dictated.
He was a dude who liked to play dress-up.
And my only regret was that I’d been “beamed in” too late to save the Ripper’s first victim, Mary Ann Nichols, a week ago Friday. I sighed. I hadn’t saved the fifty-thousand Turks either, and I realized that the message here might have been that you couldn’t change everything. All you could do was your best with your starting point, hopefully finding the heart of your resolve when push came to shove, and your feet were held to the fire.
I was back in the TLA Theatre, standing in the middle of a packed dance floor, and the stage was dark for all but the blue-lights on the drum kit making the chrome gleam, and there were torches in their mounts left and right, where Joe Hottinger and Josh Smith were positioned, the flames making shadows dance in the contours of their faces. Their eyes were closed, and they were playing a pulsing sort of introductory pattern, vaguely familiar to me, but altered to minors and melancholy chord-patterning. Arejay came up behind the drums now, a shadow himself, the blue-light making him ghost-like, and he sat on the stool, next tapping the bass drum, making a pulse, a heartbeat, a death-march.
The crowd parted at the middle. I was right there at the edge of the pathway for the procession, led by medieval English soldiers and clergy, and I suddenly knew where this was, what it represented, half – TLA Theatre and half – marketplace at Vieux-Marche in Rouen, May 30th, 1431.
This was to be an execution.
Of a nineteen-year-old who had claimed she could talk to Saints, those who told her to drive the English from France and bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation. This farm-girl convinced the uncrowned King Charles VII to give her an army, and after the Siege of Orléans, she was hailed as one of the fiercest and mightiest generals in history.
Defending Compiegne later against the English and Burgundians, however, she’d been ambushed, imprisoned, and held for trial for heresy and sorcery. It was a kangaroo court at its very worst, and she was sentenced to be burned at the stake.
“I Get Off” is yet another dope example of this band’s rock prowess.
With guards on either side, they brought in Lzzy Hale, walking the path between us with her head held high, dressed in black leather with a neck choker, bold and strong just the way Joan of Arc had often dressed in armor, and I wanted to stop this, but I was outnumbered.
On stage there was a pillar now, and around it a pyre of kindling. Lzzy was brought around the barricade, and the band changed the chording, now familiar, and the crowd began to react, to cheer the prisoner instead of shaming her as she was tied to the post, hands behind her back, two members of the clergy wearing robes standing before her bearing crosses.
The executioner took his torch, bending to ignite the flammable brush at her feet, and Lzzy Hale began singing:
“Am I brave enough? Am I strong enough? To follow the desire / That burns from within/ To push away my fear / To stand where I’m afraid / I am through with this / ‘Cause I am more than this / I promise to myself / Alone and no one else /My flame is rising higher…”
Then, a pause, a moment literally hanging in the semi-darkness, and suddenly Lzzy Hale wasn’t bound, and there was no pillar, and no funeral pyre, and she had strapped on that white Gibson double-neck, standard on top, baritone on the bottom, and when the lights blared on she had burst into flame, total combustion, half volcano – half female, like a fucking archangel.
“I am the fire / I am burning brighter / Roaring like a storm /And I am the one / I’ve been waiting for / Screaming like a siren / Alive and burning brighter / I am the fire!”
And then it switched to more standard mechanical pyrotechnics, with Flame Blaster Fire Shooters arranged at the perimeter, just like video.
And Halestorm rocked. Massive, up close, personal, and the crowd around me erupted.
Kim and I were back at the merch table. Best concert I’d seen in decades, and I’d been thinking that maybe all that fantasy stuff had been in my head. Then, Kim asked about the scar on my forearm.
I looked. It was where The Ripper had cut me, now healed, a faint red line with white edging to it.
“I’d put some skin-art around it,” Lzzy said, hair slicked down from the exertion she’d just put into that stellar performance. She slipped between, putting her arms around both of us.
“Yeah,” Kim said to me. “You could have it say ‘Halestorm.’”
“Yeah,” I said, thinking about strange context-poetry again. “Then I could have her name on my tattoo.”
We laughed together. Lzzy squeezed Kim’s shoulder.
“How are you, after your adventures, honey?”
“Never better,” Kim said. “We saved the children, didn’t we?”
“Damned right,” Lzzy said. “Gave those girls something to be proud of, to aspire to.”
I smiled wide as the world, because I finally got it. Halestorm didn’t just provide fantasies. They painted tapestries that were custom-made. Under the “blur of faces,” Lzzy brought our courage, and whether it was literary villains, historic tragedies, or just some little kids needing guidance, Halestorm gave us the soundtrack to our dreams and the bright lights meant to chase away nightmares.
The MUSIC HELL Series & Future Stories:
– Coming soon…. Something horrible TBD
06. Novelette 2: “The Buzz Killer” featuring Slayer
05. Volume 4: “Blood Lust and Skin Hunger” featuring Carpenter Brut
04. Novelette 1: “The Shadows of the Asylum” featuring Anthrax
03. Volume 3: “The Ghost of the Hot Checkered Flag Girl” featuring Asking Alexandria
02. Volume 2: “The Hiss of the Eliminator” featuring Electric Wizard
01. Volume 1: “The Sculptor” featuring Trivium